N.C. Central coach Jerry Mack needs some new Eagles to step up and make names for themselves this season.
Quarterback Malcolm Bell, offensive lineman Carl Jones, defensive lineman Darius Spruill and defensive back Mike Jones have all graduated and were all major contributors and a big reason the Eagles won three consecutive MEAC titles.
This season, Mack returns 11 starters, some of them – senior linebacker Reggie Hunter, senior defensive end Antonio Brown, senior defensive tackle Ja’Quan Smith and junior running back Ramone Simpson – have already had an impact.
Here’s a look at some of the players Mack expects to have bigger roles this season:
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Steven Perry: redshirt junior, center, 5-11, 270
Perry, who played at Riverside High, has waited behind Jones for two years for this role. Perry took over in the spring and surprised the coaches his ability to step in and become a leader on a young offensive line.
“He’s been around here three years waiting behind Carl Jones,” Mack said. “I’m looking forward to him taking control of that center spot.”
Perry’s dad, James, was once the strength and conditioning coach for the Eagles.
David Miller: senior, wide receiver, 6-0, 175
Miller started in 10 games last season, appearing in 24 games since he arrived in Durham in 2015. He was the fourth leading receiver with 23 catches, 364 yards and 3 touchdowns. With wide receivers LaVontis Smith, Khalil Stinson and Quentin Atkinson gone, and Jalen Wilkes suspended, Mack is expecting big things from Miller.
“Fans are familiar with David Miller, but he had an awesome summer and he had a really good camp,” Mack said. “I’m looking forward to him stepping up his role.”
Isaiah Totten: redshirt freshman, running back, 5-9, 185
Totten had a breakout spring for the Eagles with a touchdown in each scrimmage. With junior running back Dorrell McClain out most of the spring recovering from a leg injury he suffered in 2016, Totten, from Apex, took advantage of those extra practice reps. Totten’s productivity from the spring carried over to fall camp as he scored a touchdown in each of the Eagles full scrimmages. He will provide depth to an already loaded backfield behind Simpson, McClain and sophomore Torri Cotton.
Micah Zanders: sophomore, quarterback, 6-1, 195
Zanders is coming in as the starter after Bell, the second-leading passer in N.C. Central history with 6,342 passing yards and 42 touchdowns, graduated. Zanders is even wearing Bell’s old jersey number, 15.
But the sophomore transfer from Hinds Community College has stood out in camp, beating out three other quarterbacks for the starting spot, even though he didn’t arrive on campus until the summer. At Hinds last season, Zanders threw for 878 yards and five touchdowns in 6 games.
“Micah has separated himself a little bit so he’s kind of emerged as the guy to take more reps right now,” Mack said.
Arthur Randall: junior, defensive tackle, 6-3, 250
Randall, a transfer from Glendale Community College, arrived on campus just a few weeks before the start of camp, and made an impact on the team pretty fast. Randall worked his way up to the No. 2 spot on the Eagles two-deep chart at defensive tackle, adding depth to an already deep position group.
Brandon Bailey: freshman, linebacker, 6-0, 235)
The true freshman was a 3-star recruit coming out of Deerfield Beach High School in Florida and the 10th best linebacker in the Sunshine State. He isn’t listed on the two-deep, but Mack said the freshman will see the field against Duke and will contribute to the team this season.
Alphonso Carter: senior, cornerback, 6-4, 205
Carter, who played at Tennessee and then Louisville before transferring to N.C. Central, has looked, at times, like the best athlete on the field for the Eagles. Long and athletic, he will give N.C. Central size at cornerback it hasn’t had before. Carter, who will also return kicks this season, went to Tennessee as a wide receiver out of Frederick Douglass High School in Maryland.Mack hasn’t ruled out Carter taking some snaps on offense this season. He wasn’t much of an impact player in the ACC (four career tackles, four punt returns), but Mack expects him to be a breakout performer in the MEAC.
Marcus Martin: freshman, cornerback, 5-11, 190
Martin enrolled in January, went through spring practice and is No. 2 on the depth chart at cornerback. Mack raved about how well Martin performed during camp, including the last scrimmage when he broke up a pair of long passes, and how the true freshman already looks to be a major contributor in the Eagles’ secondary.
“I think Alphonso and Marcus are really 1A and 1B at the corner spot,” Mack said. “They’ve shown that they are going to be able to play for us at this level. I’m excited about those guys.”
Mike Robsinson redshirt junior, defensive back, 6-0, 180
If there was a top newcomer award based on the two full scrimmages, it would be Robinson, a little-used reserve who had nine tackles in 11 games last season. Robinson has had an interception in each of the Eagles scrimmages and is a versatile player who can move around in the secondary.
“Mike is a utility guy,” Mack said. “He can go play safety for us like he’s been playing the few years. He can play corner, he’s always contributed well on our special teams. He’s kind of like a jack of all trades for us.”
NCCU at Duke
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham
TV: ACC Network Extra
Radio: WDNC 620, 99.3, 96.5